One of Our Thursdays is Missing
Published by Recorded Books, LLC
Read by Emily Gray
The Woman Who Died a Lot
Published by Hodder and Stoughton
Read by Gabrielle Kruger
Both books by Jasper Fforde
Here, sadly is an example of a series that may have run its course. Every series has a certain viable length to it and I fear this one hit the wall at the end of the fourth book (if not earlier). It is a wise author who understands when to move on to the next series, but perhaps I should be blaming the publishers who want more of “just the same, but different.” When a story sells well, it is predictable that a publisher will be more willing to spend the necessary money to publish and promote a sequel than on something entirely new. It is the safe path to good business to prefer a book involving known characters by a proven author. But while the path is safe, it is never of infinite length and the Thursday Next Series appears to be stuck in a cul-de-sac.
The entire series involved a woman named Thursday Next who lives in an improbable world with alternative physics, fantasy creatures like were wolves and vampires (who do not really have anything to do with the series but get an occasional walk-on), Neanderthals, brought back from extinction, alternative history, a megalithic corporation named Goliath bent on world purchase and the ability of some to go back and forth between the so-called real world and that in which books exist. Does this sound hopelessly complex? Yes, yes it does. Oh they also used to have time-travel until it turned out that technology was never invented at which point they did not have time-travel any longer.
One of Our Thursdays is Missing does not actually center on the original Thursday Next at all but on the supposedly ineffective tree-hugging, all organic and fictional Thursday 5 from the previous book. That’s right. The one incapable of being tough enough to be in Jurisfiction because she tried to hug a character-eating monster when she should have been shooting it. So back in her book, this other Thursday is trying her best to play the real Thursday in a way that honors her. While training an understudy (sometimes it seems like main characters spend more time out of their books than in them, and Thursday 5 more than most) she says that unlike the previous fictional Thursday, who had been penned as the ultimate violent slut, she was written to be not like the original Thursday, but as that original wanted others to see her. This is a retcon if I ever read one, considering that the Original Thursday openly stated in the last book she was not pleased with how Thursday 5 portrayed her. To make it worse, Thursday 5 goes on to repeat that several times as though the more it is said, the truer it might be. Well, maybe she truly believes that in spite of evidence to the contrary, but it is not clear as written.
In any case, it appears that the Thursday we were expecting has mysteriously gone missing and somehow it is up to the fictional Thursday to find her.
The book starts with a complete remake of the BookWorld. When the world was revamped for no really good purpose from one in which each book needed a taxi to get from one to the next (unless you could book-jump, an activity no longer in vogue for some reason… sure that makes sense, why just hop to where you want to go when you can travel on foot or via taxi or some other literary conveyance) into one that, while obviously limited for space, was set into the inside of a hollow sphere with a different island for each genre so that you only needed a taxi to travel inter-genre, which is also mostly clandestine for some reason never adequately explained.
From the point of view for the story, it is another of Mister Fforde’s needless complications in a fantasy world already too full of needless complications. I constantly hope he is going to tie all these facets together, but instead he is obviously more interested in revisions and seeing how much he can throw in whether it has anything to do with his story or not. However, it really felt like the only reason to change the BookWorld was to try to make the setting fresh, as though a world in which every book ever publish, and quite a few that never made it, is not already fascinating enough. Think about it. A world with more stories that can fit in any library… How much more interesting can one make that?
In The Woman Who Died a Lot, we find a broken and only partially healed Thursday (the original was rescued… is that a spoiler? I don’t think so, since the appearance of an additional book sort of implies it). Due to her injuries, Thursday can no longer enter the BookWorld, so the entire book takes place in the unlikely real world she was born into. She has been given a new job; Head Librarian of Swindon which, in a world where books are far more important to the economy than this one, is an exciting and dangerous job especially with the Goliath Corporation trying to cash in by destroying obscure vanity-pressed books and someone keeps trying to replace Thursday with life-like simulacrums (called day-players) for reasons she cannot fathom.
Both books seem like a desperate ploy to breathe some life into a dying series as both the Book and Real Worlds become increasingly surreal and unbelievable. Sadly, these are both book only for the rabid fan of Mister Fforde’s work. Will there be any further Thursday Next adventures? I fear there will be as this book did not really come to an end. It just stopped suddenly at the end of a chapter with a clumsy, dodo-obsessed cliff-hanger implying they were about to go back to Book World.
Readers of this blog may recall that my first impression of Emily Gray’s reading was not favorable, but that I gradually warmed to her style. In this case it was like coming home to an old friend and she quite possibly read the “Written Thursday” better than she did the “Real Thursday.” There was none of the cool and dispassionate voice when reading the introductory credits as such and her warmth came through during the entire book. I may not have liked the book very much, but I highly enjoyed listening to her read it.
I have never encountered Gabrielle Kruger’s reading before and, as often happens, it took me a while to adjust to her somewhat different style. However, maybe I’m just not as picky as I thought and any female voice with a British accent (I honestly would not know if any of the actresses who have read the Thursday Next stories used an accurate Wiltshire accent, perhaps a British reader might enlighten me on this) will satisfy me. Certainly, I would be appalled to hear Thursday sound like a Southern belle, a Tex-Mex Cowgirl, Cali-Valley girl or even speaking with my own native Massachusetts accent. Then again, that could be an amusing sequence, but hopefully the ship has sailed on Thursday’s ventures into alternative history… In any case, I find I must admit that Ms Kruger makes as good a Thursday as Emily Gray and Susan Duerdan.
My advice: if you like Fforde’s books, just sit back and enjoy the listening experience. So far, I have enjoyed listening to all the women reading them even if my pleasure in the actual stories has waned.